Was it Woody Allen who first said, "I wouldn't want to be a member of a society that would claim me as one of its members?" Perhaps, in his humorous statement, Allen hit on an important issue. The romantic notion of individuality-a school of thought that musicians and scholars must stake out new territory, develop new interpretations, and devise new concepts-has, in some ways, clouded our ability to connect with each other professionally. And, like Allen, we are not sure if the peer group of our aspirations is the same as the one we deserve.
As a graduate student in piano performance, I can attest to the relative disenfranchisement that comes from walking below the streets of academia. Even our places of study and practice seem to emphasize clearly that we are indeed on the fringes of society. For example, at the University of Arizona, students practice in the bowels of the music building, a dark and eerie basement, and emerge each night, like some kind of 24-hour cicada, only to descend again the next morning. We graduate students live in a kind of academic no-man's land, not quite professional but certainly a step above "beginner." And so, we go along on our merry way, aware of the conditions awaiting us after graduation (our professors, you see, have the jobs we want), yet never exactly sure how to go about the precarious procedure of scaling the ivory tower. Fortunately, I have an advisor who seems to have her students' best interests always at hand, and who can sort through our academic adolescence to see that certainly, one day, we will be the future of music scholarship and performance.
Recently, at her suggestion, I joined The College Music Society. This organization has a long history of promoting the achievements of its individual members and, I believe, is well on its way to becoming the premier music society for graduate students. By joining The College Music Society, graduate students throughout the nation have the opportunity to network with each other and to discover just what is being done in their areas of interest. In addition to the widely touted listing of job opportunities published by CMS, through membership in the Society graduate students have access to news and information that crosses all disciplines within the field of music. Furthermore, by attending regional and national meetings, graduate students will indeed meet their colleagues of the future.
One of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel, frequented a society known as Les Apaches. That group, formed around 1900, provided the composer with fascinating conversations and, in some cases, directly influenced his compositions. Ali, Paris in the early 20th century! Lest I digress, suffice it to say that the members of Les Apaches included de Falla, Delage, Caplet, Vines, de Severac, and several other musicians, the painter Paul Sordes, and the poets Fargue and Klingsor. History buffs will remember that the eccentric Klingsor provided texts for Ravels orchestral song cycle Sheherazade (Mezzo, orch., 1903). Moreover, Stravinsky joined Les Apaches in 1909, a factor that probably led to Ravels heightened interest in Stravinsky's music. Throughout history there are many examples of the impact artists have had on one another.
In our age of advanced technology, we are blessed with the ability to communicate easily and quickly. Ironically we are also cursed with the sense of isolation that technology can provide, By meeting with our peers and colleagues, as did Ravel, de Falla, and Stravinsky, we may harvest a bounty of original ideas and come away a little bit different for that.
For graduate students, The College Music Society provides a forum to toss out ideas and see what comes back to us, a forum to share information on the general status of graduate students and, possibly, to find ways in which this status can improve at our home universities, and, God willing, a setting in which to deliver our first successful papers and lecture-recitals. Yes, there is a nominal fee for joining The College Music Society, and graduate students are usually on a stiff budget that allows for little more than their ramen noodle/tuna casserole dinners, but the benefits of membership easily outweigh the initial investment.
In closing, to quote the President of The College Music Society, "the future looks bright, indeed." An organization that both welcomes and cherishes diversity among its members can only project a more interesting whole. By encouraging graduate students and retired persons to come into the fold, CMS is on its way to pursuing ideals both ancient and modern. CMS will become a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, a work of art in which all players add to the creation of something artistically integrated and brilliant on all levels. Perhaps you, too, are ready to join a group like CMS. Don't be shy -- take the plunge! Your teacher was once a basement dweller, too.